Looking at Fairtrade

What exactly is Fair Trade? How much do we really know about it? Is Fair Trade the alternative approach? and what’s the cost of Fair Trade? These are all questions we should be asking ourselves.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if beings from another universe came to visit us to learn about our planet? To learn about our ways of life and how we survive. I can imagine them asking such questions like “what do you need the most to survive? “Food” What is this stuff covering your skin? “Clothes.” Who makes these things called “clothes”? Some people make them in factories and their homes. “Who are they”? Now this is where I would pause as what do I say? I’d be struggling on an answer because the answer that comes to mind is the poorest people that work in sweatshops. Women, children and even men work themselves for hours to making these clothes for us just so they can make a living, which is hardly a living at all.

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We’re in the year 2016 and still to this day people are treated unfairly in third world countries. Women are living in the size of a box with other women and all they do is work and sleep all so we can have overpriced cheap clothing. I still can’t wrap my head around how the things I have taken for granted in life.  Worldwide, there are millions of people that do not have access to drinking water, a proper home, a job with workers rights. When I think of the clothes I’m wearing or the clothes I used to buy brand new, I think of the children that would work for hours making those clothes for a few dollars a month just to survive. I was oblivious to how my clothes were made, I just didn’t care. Now that I know how my clothes are made, I can make better choices. 

Fair Trade the alternative approach

Enter Fair Trade, who advocates an alternative trade framework. On their website, Fair Trade International argues that the concept is based on a partnership between producers and consumers, and that when farmers can sell on Fair Trade terms, it provides them with “a better deal and improved terms of trade,” and “the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future”. Fair Trade International is the organization that set the Fair Trade standards for ethical trade. Today, it upholds standards for small producers, for hired labor, for contract production, for traders, and for the climate. In essence, these aim to promote socially, economically, and environmentally sound production and trade practices: Fair Trade-certified organizations are supposed to champion good working conditions, equitable profit distribution, fair and transparent trade practices, and sustainability. All lofty standards we should aspire for, without question.

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Fair Trade, the cost

Being and buying Fair Trade-certified both come with a price. On the production side, becoming certified means going through the lengthy and stringent audit process, and putting in more resources towards sustainable practices. Relatedly, some are concerned that this process only furthers the marginalization of small farmers. Fair Trade also point to how it is cheaper and easier for larger organizations to become certified. Others noted that this encourages overproduction, with producers leaning towards increasing their supply to cover the premium for better-paid farmers and workers. Fair Trade argues that it “offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping.” But this is a problematic claim. For one, it enjoins people to choose Fair Trade when it is not always the right decision. Is it, for example, ethical to buy a Fair Trade product flown in from another continent, when a sustainable grown alternative is available locally? Should disadvantaged shoppers be made to feel guilty for selecting what fits their budget over Fair Trade? Is a Fair Trade-only lifestyle even possible for a working-class household?

Fair Trade is not the answer to every problem, but it can be part of the solution. Fair Trade is only the beginning and yet we are a long way from making fair trade a standard in every household. The awareness of Fair Trade and what it means is still very low. Apart from coffee and chocolate connoisseurs, fair trade is virtually unknown. We need to raise awareness so that things can start changing for the better.

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